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Bill seeks $6.5 million for Austin health care center

ST. PAUL — A local lawmaker is seeking $6.5 million to help build a medical facility in Austin aimed at providing care for low-income residents.

Open Door Health Center's mobile clinic will begin making monthly visits to Austin. The clinic offers basic health care on a sliding fee for people who do not have health insurance, are under-insured, or could not afford to visit traditional health care providers.

ST. PAUL — A local lawmaker is seeking $6.5 million to help build a medical facility in Austin aimed at providing care for low-income residents.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, recently introduced a bill to help fund the project. The money would allow Mankato-based Open Door Health Center to open a satellite office in Austin. The center's CEO Douglas Jaeger Jr. said helping fuel the push is a lack of dental services for low-income individuals in the area.

"It's an area that has been high on our radar for several years now because of the huge need in and around Mower County, so we want to try and help take care of those services," Jaeger said.

Under the proposal, the nonprofit center is hoping to get $6.5 million from the state that it would match to build the clinic. The facility would have 18 dental chairs and also provide medical and behavioral health services to clients. Jaeger estimates more than 10,000 patients could be treated at the clinic each year, and it would have 50 to 100 employees. A site for the project has not yet been selected.

The center already has a mobile clinic that visits Austin twice per month to provide medical care.


"All of our appointment slots have been full each of those times. We're averaging upwards of 10 visits a day," Jaeger said.

So why such a big demand for care, especially dental treatment? Jaeger said it has to do with the low reimbursement rates for Medicaid. Private practice dentists in the region simply can't afford to take on more low-income patients.

"I talked with some of the local dentists last year who said there is so much of a need there (in Austin) that they would love for us to be able to take care of the needs in that community," Jaeger said.

The Austin clinic would be a "federally qualified health care center," making it eligible for additional state and federal dollars to help with the cost of serving low-income patients.

In order for the proposal to move ahead, the center needs to partner with the city of Austin to get the state dollars. Austin City Administrator Craig Clark said the center approached officials a couple of weeks ago about the idea. The city would serve as the fiscal agent for the project.

"They've really taken the initiative on their end of things. We're just trying to help facilitate it," Clark said.

Center leaders are expected to attend an upcoming Austin City Council work session to talk more with city officials about it.

The proposal also will have to compete with billions of dollars in requests for other construction projects across the state. Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would like to see lawmakers pass a $1.5 billion bonding bill this year. The Senate is moving ahead with a $1 billion bonding proposal left over from last year. The House has yet to put a plan forward.


Poppe said she will be pushing hard to get a bonding bill this year and arguing this is a worthy project to fund. She also expects DFL Sen. Dan Sparks to sponsor a bill for the project.

She added, "Hopefully, we can move it along and get some dollars."

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